How Models Fail
A Critical Look at the History of Computer Simulations of the Evolution of Cooperation

Eckhart Arnold

1 Introduction
2 The empirical failure of simulations of the evolution of cooperation
3 Justificatory narratives
4 Bad excuses for bad methods and why they are wrong
    4.1 “Our knowledge is limited, anyway”
    4.2 “One can always learn something from failure”
    4.3 “Models always rely on simplification”
    4.4 “There are no alternatives to modeling”
    4.5 “Modeling promotes a scientific habit of mind”
    4.6 “Division of labor in science exempts theoreticians from empirical work”
    4.7 “Success within the scientific community proves scientific validity”
    4.8 “Natural sciences do it just the same way”
    4.9 Concluding remarks
5 History repeats itself: Comparison with similar criticisms of naturalistic or scientistic approaches

4.8 “Natural sciences do it just the same way”

Argument: The use of models is pervasive throughout the natural sciences and in particular physics. Now, the natural sciences have been extremely successful and continuously progressing since their very inception in early modern times. Why should not social sciences learn from the successful methods of the natural sciences and employ models?

Response: So physicists do it just the same way? Nay, they don't! Throughout the natural sciences it is common practice to test models and theories rigorously against experiments and empirical observations. The success of the natural sciences is not only due to mathematical modeling alone, but rather to the co-evolution of mathematical theory and measurement technology.

However, even if social modelers were to apply the same standards of empirical rigor as natural scientists, success is not at all guaranteed. For, it may be the case that social life just does not follow any mathematical laws that are simple enough for us to understand or any mathematical laws at all. It is a contingent fact that physical nature follows laws that can be described mathematically. But there is no necessity that this will turn out to be the case for all realms of being. God has never promised that it would.

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